Skip to page content

Composed: c. 1708, transcr. 1927
Length: c. 10 minutes
Orchestration: 4 flutes (3rd and 4th = piccolo), 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, 2 harps, celesta, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: October 24, 1929, Artur Rodzinski conducting

Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) was a meteor, streaking across the musical skies and leaving brilliant trails destined to glow on indefinitely. He was everything a fabled maestro should be: handsome, virile, magnetic, flamboyant. Utterly dedicated to lofty musical ideals, at the same time he would indulge in many a theatrical maneuver for which he was harshly judged by more conservative musicians. When he died, The New York Times declared of his legacy that remains on disc, “Few conductors made an orchestra, even an inferior one, glow, pulsate, and explode with color the way Stokowski did... everything he recorded... is the work of an inimitable musician whose impact on the musical life of three generations has not yet been adequately assessed.”

Stokowski’s first recording of his celebrated transcription of the Toccata and Fugue appeared in 1927. In 1938, when deciding upon repertory for the film Fantasia, Walt Disney favored the Toccata and Fugue over Stokowski’s choice of the “Little” Fugue in G minor. Disney prevailed.

If one were to select the single composition that best epitomizes the grandeur, the fantasy, the breathtaking bravura of the Baroque period, it would have to be the Toccata and Fugue in D minor that Bach wrote for organ, maybe as early as 1708. It is daring and flamboyant in its brilliant and sudden changes of mood, carrying improvisation to cosmic ends in the toccata, and counterpoint to emotional heights in a fugue that finally shakes itself free of discipline to create its own powerfully dramatic thrust.

It need only be added that Stokowski’s transcription not only reflects the Bachian grandeur, but magnifies it, by ten-fold at least.

— Orrin Howard served for many years as the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Director of Publications and Archives.